With Andres Iniesta sidelined, Vissel Kobe's inconsistency rears ugly head again in AFC Champions League exit at hands of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Vissel Kobe's bid to win the 2022-23 AFC Champions League came to an end in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Kenta Harada/Getty Images

Just four days ago, it was looking all so optimistic for Vissel Kobe.

But on Monday, the inconsistency that has plagued the struggling J1 League giants reared its ugly head once more with their AFC Champions League dream coming to an end as they relinquished a lead to lose 3-1 after extra-time to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the quarterfinals.

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Based on both team's displays throughout 2022, Jeonbuk would have arguably been the favourites for the tie but the situation is never that straightforward when it involves Vissel.

After all, they are a team with undeniable quality in their ranks -- and one that only last Thursday had produced a brilliant display in the Round of 16 to beat compatriots Yokohama F. Marinos 3-2.

Following a battle of attrition in the first half at Saitama Stadium 2002, it initially looked like another Vissel victory was on the cards after Koya Yuruki fired them ahead in the 64th minute but Modou Barrow hit back for the South Korean outfit just two minutes later.

As the game headed into extra-time, Jeonbuk then took the lead as they benefitted from an error in judgement from Vissel goalkeeper Daiya Maekawa -- who perhaps best epitomises his team's Jekyll-and-Hyde displays.

Having produced a series of fine saves to keep Vissel in the contest -- just as he did against Marinos last week -- Maekawa needlessly came off his line in an attempt to deal with a deep cross to the back post but soon found himself in no man's land, leaving him helpless to prevent Gustavo from steering a header over him and into the back of the net.

With Vissel spurning a handful of decent chances to equalise themselves, a third Jeonbuk right at the death by Moon Seon-min sealed the result.

As the sidelined Andres Iniesta watched on in disappointment, it would be easy -- and hugely incorrect -- to attribute Vissel's elimination down to the absence of the talismanic Spanish playmaker.

In reality, Iniesta has been hampered by injuries all year long and his team finished their continental campaign without him taking to the field for a single minute.

While fitness -- given their last outings was just four days earlier -- and perhaps some undisclosed injuries might have been a factor, Vissel coach Takayuki Yoshida's curious decision to ring the changes in his lineup also needs to be questioned.

Despite their excellent performances against Marinos, Yuruki, Nanasei Iino and Leo Osaki were all relegated to the bench, while Daiju Sasaki and Yuya Osako were omitted completely.

Instead, 19-year-old Yusei Ozaki, who is yet to make his J1 League debut, was thrown into the deep end at right-back while Stefan Mugosa was tasked the lead the line -- and perform Osako's usual high-pressing role -- despite having only made one league start since his mid-season move from Incheon United.

Unless injuries were indeed a factor, it was a huge surprise that Yoshida would make such drastic changes to his starting XI -- seven in total -- in a match of such high stakes, given the ACL represented Vissel's last chance at salvaging something from their season.

It could yet prove to be a blessing in disguise.

With their continental endeavours no longer a distraction, Vissel can focus all of their attention on avoiding relegation as they remain third from bottom in the J1 League and two points off safety.

Silverware could also still arrive in the form of the Emperor's Cup, in which they are currently through to the quarterfinals.

Yet, neither would really make for a successful season.

Being crowned champions of Asia for the first time ever would have. But Vissel's inconsistency had to rear its ugly head once again at the most inopportune of moments.